Summer/Fall 2021: Part of this route is closed to motor vehicle traffic this year which provides a unique opportunity to cycle the Bow Valley Parkway without any motor vehicle traffic. Check the Parks Canada website before heading out. As of June 25, 2021 there is some construction just where the road splits for the second time at ~km 36 past Castle Junction towards Lake Louise.
Ride Difficulty Rating – Beginner or Intermediate. The majority of this ride has grades less than 2%, and as an out and back you can always turn back at any point. It is a nice gradual uphill ride but just 5 km out from Lake Louise there is a steep uphill grade to the turn off to Lake Louise, then a steep downhill grade into town.
Distance – 111 km out and back
Estimated cycling time – 5.5 hours assuming 20 km/hr
Elevation Gain – 993 m
Maximum Elevation – 1607 m
Maximum Grade –9.5% down hill grade on the out trip at 21.3 km and up hill grade of 6.9% at km 56.9
Maximum Elevation – 1607 m just before the descent into Lake Louise
Best Parking Option
Park at the first available parking area on Vermilion Lakes road. To get to Vermilion Lakes Road, take the Norquay access into Banff off of Hwy 1, then make the first right turn. A valid Parks Canada pass is required to park.
Alternatively you can access appropriate parking nearby by checking the banffparking.ca website. For example there is 12 hour free parking at the Fennlands site just adjacent to the Vermillion Lakes road which connects cyclists to the Bow Valley Parkway.
There is also very limited parking just as you turn off Hwy 1 onto the closed portion of the Bow Valley Parkway…just past the Norquay turnoff.
Alternative Parking – not available summer 2021
Park along the Bow Valley Parkway at the Edith Pass road. To get there continue along Hwy 1 past Banff and take the Bow Valley Parkway exit. Take the first opportunity to turn off to the right and park. This will shorten the route by 11 km. Banff to Lake Louise Century ride (100 Km) here we come!!
Food for Thought: Due to the increased popularity of this route due to the Covid road closure, consider parking in Lake Louise and cycling the route in reverse. Or what we did recently was park at Castle Junction and cycled the opened portion of the road heading towards Lake Louise…much fewer cyclist, lots of parking at Castle Junction as long as you get there early and super smooth pavement with a 3 foot shoulder all the way. Then when you get back to Castle Junction you can decide whether to keep cycling the closed portion, but you will be offset with the mass of cyclists that started at Vermillion Lakes.
Washrooms are available a short distance from the parking spot along Vermillion Lakes Road and at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre at the turnaround point. Washrooms can also be found all along the Parkway at trailheads, campgrounds and rest stops and at Johnston Canyon.
Points of Interest
There are eleven ‘point of interest’ pull outs along this route, three with picnic tables, so there are lots of opportunities to stop and learn about the unique geology and World War One internment camp history. When you are cycling, remember the more than 600 men who built 10 km of this Bow Valley Parkway between 1915-1917 using axes, picks and wheelbarrows.
The road splits twice to divert around geological features. These are our favourite stretches on this route. You will know what we mean once you experience this on your own.
Comments from our test riders:
Beginner Road Cyclist – We could turn back whenever we got tired and with the slower motor vehicle traffic speed we felt comfortable.
Intermediate Road Cyclist – A great ride with great views.
Expert Road Cyclist – Great training ride with the opportunity to ride in large groups due to low motor vehicle traffic volume. Didn’t bother descending into Lake Louise and turned back for a nice morning ride.
What to expect from this ride
A capstone ride is the iconic Banff to Lake Louise Bow Valley Parkway. The total cycling distance on this out and back ride is 111 km from the Vermilion Lakes parking area. The views are stunning and you may encounter wildlife along the way. We have seen both grizzly bears and black bears which is a very different experience when you are on a bike!! Watch for a line of cars stopped on the road, this usually means a wildlife spotting. Many cyclists carry bear spray however you can almost eliminate the probability of having to use bear spray if you grab a few friends and make this a group ride.
The Bow Valley Parkway is recommended for a mid-week shoulder season trip when motor vehicle traffic is lighter, however, we know a cyclist who does this route every Saturday morning and avoids the heavy traffic by getting an early start. Keep in mind that the Bow Valley Parkway is a seasonal road and has a voluntary closure from March 1 to June 25 from 6-9 pm from Banff to Johnson Canyon to accommodate wildlife. Check the Parks Canada website before heading out. Due to Covid 19 the first part of this route from Banff to Castle Junction is closed to motor vehicle traffic summer 2020 and 2021 and has become super popular. I pine a bit for the days when this was a relatively unknown route.
The benefits of this ride are the views, smooth pavement, wide shoulders, gentle grades and low speed vehicle traffic. In addition, the elevation gain on your way in is greater than on your way out so your return trip will be easier on the legs and much quicker. Always plan for changing weather, even on clear sunny days. Ride in a group due to wild life concerns, ride single file and wear high visibility clothing. The speed limit on this road is 60 km/hr and we have generally found the motor vehicle drivers very respectful of cyclists.
Use caution cycling past the Johnston Canyon area as there are often parked motor vehicles lining the road and pedestrians. We recommend cycling into the town of Lake Louise and taking a break in town. If you do proceed into town, remember that there are Texas gates and, as of spring 2021, traffic lights that on the descent into Lake Louise. I forgot about the Texas Gates on one of my trips and on the fast descent into Lake Louise road right over them. No harm was done but I would not recommend riding top speed over the rails! Alternatively, experienced riders that don’t need a break may choose to turn back when you get to Whitehorn Drive (Lake Louise ski area road) at the km 55 mark. This only cuts about 2.5 km’s out of the ride so always a great option.
This ride is highly recommended for all beginner, intermediate and experienced road cyclists. As of summer 2021 this is also popular with the e-bike crowd.